Sebastien Loeb was ‘thrilled’ to win the Rally Finland for the first time on Sunday
Sebastien Loeb has hailed his victory on the Rally Finland as one of the best of his career, after he came through to take the laurels and see off the challenge of local star Mikko Hirvonen.
Loeb led the latest round in the World Rally Championship from start-to-finish in his Citroen C4 WRC car and while BP Ford Abu Dhabi’s #1 driver made him work hard for the ten points, in the end, the Frenchman took P1 by 9 seconds.
In doing so, he not only put himself back within a point of re-taking the lead in the race for the 2008 drivers’ title, but he also made a little bit of history, as he is only the seventh non-Finn and the fourth non-Nordic driver to win the rally in the events 58-year history.
Speaking at the finish, Loeb noted that his 42nd WRC win was a source of ‘great satisfaction’, especially as winning the ’1000 Lakes’ was on his to-do list this year.
“I’m thrilled to have won this rally and I’m especially pleased with the way we won it,” he reflected. “From start to finish, the scrap reminded me of the thrilling clashes we had last year with Marcus Grönholm. It was a very close run thing throughout and we were never able to relax.
“It was really big tension and big stress all the time, flat out everywhere. At the start of the stages you knew that you couldn’t make any mistakes. It was really difficult.
“It is difficult to remember all the wins I’ve had during my career in the WRC but this one for sure is one of the best of them. I won in Sweden in 2004 to become the only non-Scandinavian winner there but it was not the same kind of fight. Here there was a big fight and that gives you the most satisfaction.”
Asked about the event more generally, the four-time world champion added that his decision not to ease off at the end of day 1 was definitely a bit of a gamble. However he didn’t want to throw away the 14-odd second cushion that had been so hard to build-up, just to ensure a better road position on Saturday’s second leg.
“The decision to keep the lead at the end of the opening day involved a certain amount of risk because we didn’t know exactly how much road-sweeping we would have to do [on Saturday]. It meant pushing hard all the way, but the tactic finally paid off,” he continued.
“Our objective today was to keep up a fast pace over the final day’s 40.47km of stages and keep a close eye on how our main rival was going. It was important not to make any mistakes and that meant building in a certain safety margin. After spending the first two days driving flat out between the trees, I had absolutely no intention of letting our 42nd WRC win slip from our grasp.
“Today’s victory also means we have met one of the objectives we set ourselves at the start of the season [and that was to win in Finland for the first time], and that’s a particularly satisfying feeling. I had every confidence in my Citroën C4 from flag to flag and this result gives our chances in the Drivers’ championship a terrific boost since it narrows the gap down to just 1 point. It’s been a positive weekend, too, for Citroen in the Manufacturers’ standings.”
The event wasn’t completely trouble free though and a spin in the penultimate stage, showed just how difficult things were: “I just had to remind myself to drive normally and not to try so much flat out,” Loeb added. “I have been driving flat out for two days and after that you start to do stupid things.
“So after that mistake I said, no, keep a normal rhythm and try to finish and that’s what I did. It is a question of pressure. I knew I would have to push this morning and the feeling was good but when you try to change the rhythm that’s when it becomes difficult.”
The World Rally Championship now heads to Germany and that event has always been extremely good for Loeb. Indeed he took his very first WRC win there in 2002 – and this year he will be going for his seventh win in succession in Trier and will start as the undisputed favourite.
“Tarmac rallies have always been good for me and in Germany I have won every time,” he summed-up. “But everything is possible and anything can happen so, OK, tarmac rallies help me a lot in my Championship but Germany is always very, very tricky.”